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Karl Wilhelm Theodor Weierstrass, the eldest son of Wilhelm
Weierstrass (1790-1SC9) and his wife Theodora Forst, was born
on 31 October 1815, at Ostenfelde in the district of Monster,
Germany. The father was then a customs officer in the pay of
the French. It may be recalled that 1815 was the year of
Waterloo; the French were still dominating Europe. That year
also saw the birth of Bismarck, and it is interesting to observe
that whereas the more famous statesman's life work was shot
to pieces hi World War I, if not earlier, the contributions of
his comparatively obscure contemporary to science and the
advancement of civilization in general are even more highly
esteemed to-day than they were during his lifetime.
The Weierstrass family were devout liberal Catholics all their
lives; the father had been converted from Protestantism, pro-
bably at the time of his marriage. Karl had a brother, Peter
(died in 1904), and two sisters, Klara (1823-96), and Elise
(1826-98) who looked after his comfort all their lives. The
mother died in 1826, shortly after Elise's birth, and the father
married again the following year. Little is known of Karl's
mother, except that she appears to have regarded her husband
tfith a restrained aversion and to have looked on her marriage
with moderated disgust. The stepmother was a typical German
housewife; her influence on the intellectual development of her
stepchildren was probably nil. The father, on the other hand,
was a practical idealist, and a man of culture who at one time
had been a teacher. The last ten years of his life were spent in
peaceful old age in the house of his famous son in Berlin, where
the two daughters also lived. None of the children ever married,
although poor Peter once showed an inclination toward matri-
mony which was promptly squelched by his father and sisters.
One possible discord in the natural sociability of the children
was the father's uncompromising righteousness, domineering
authority, and Prussian pigheadedness. He nearly wrecked
Peter's life with his everlasting lecturing and came perilously
close to doing the same by Karl, whom he attempted to force
into an uncongenial career without ascertaining where his
brilliant young son's abilities lay. Old Weierstrass had the
audacity to preach at his younger son and meddle in his affairs